Students' experiences and perceptions of the use of portfolios in UK preregistration dietetic placements: a questionnaire-based study

K M Brennan, S C Lennie
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: the Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association 2010, 23 (2): 133-43

BACKGROUND: Reflective portfolios were introduced to dietetic practice placements in 2005, providing evidence for learning outcomes achieved and acting as a summative assessment tool. Portfolios may measure clinical competence more effectively than conventional examinations, but can be time consuming and subjective. The present study investigated current dietetic students' experiences and perceptions of the use and effectiveness of portfolio based learning and assessment during practice placements.

METHODS: Current UK dietetic students, who had completed a B or B and C placement, were invited to participate, via University course leaders, in an online questionnaire exploring opinions and experiences of portfolio preparation, generation, assessment, and personal and professional development and reflection.

RESULTS: One hundred and fourteen students from 11 Universities participated. Seventy-seven percent would have liked more information about portfolio construction prior to placement. Eighty percent of students believed that reflection helped monitor their strengths and weaknesses. Perceived reflective skills were significantly positively correlated with students' perceived writing skills (P < 0.0005) and academic ability (P = 0.002). Of the respondents, 92% agreed the portfolio was a valuable learning experience; however, 76% agreed that the amount of paperwork involved was excessive and 67% felt there were inconsistencies in portfolio assessment by different supervisors.

CONCLUSIONS: Portfolio weaknesses identified are not specific to dietetics but are inherent to portfolio assessment across many professions. The introduction of national standardised assessment processes, practices, tools and training for assessors may help improve inter-departmental and inter-rater reliability, respectively.

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